Green Party Preferences: How It Works
One measure of Labor’s defeat in Saturday’s state election was the drying up of Green Party preferences.
The Green Party opted not to allocate preferences to the ALP in the Upper House and with a few exceptions – I think my information is right on this score – did not distribute a how-to-vote with a number two allocation to the ALP for the Lower House. In cases where it did (for example, in Nathan Rees’ seat of Toongabbie) a high proportion of Green Party voters still only cast a number one vote and gave nothing to the ALP.
Yet I recall state elections where the Green Party had no choice but to allocate preferences to Labor, because:
• Labor’s record on environmental issues was so compelling
• Green Party voters were going to preference the ALP anyway, no matter what their party recommended
Indeed in electorates where the Green Party did not allocate preferences, Labor found in the 1999 and 2003 state elections the majority of voters voting Green Party on putting a number two in the ALP box.
It was not only our unambiguous record on saving the forests. It was the general image of a government that had elevated public education, never had an ICAC finding against it, or a resignation over ministerial behaviour, championed embryonic stem cell research when John Howard tried to close it off, supported a medically supervised injecting room as an evidence-based experiment and eliminated the bias against same-sex relationships in property law.
In the last four years when Labor, through the fault of one individual, allowed itself to be touched by the stench of Wollongong Council, allowed a handful of ministers to talk about a “brown” agenda and scorned support for the arts and for arts industries – well, Labor’s natural affinity for Green Party-inclined voters was surrendered.
In this election in one electorate a sympathetic Green Party official told a Labor candidate that if they did produce a how-to-vote card recommending a number two for Labor, local Green Party members would refuse to hand it out. This is a big contrast with the situation in 1995 when my government was elected in a very close result with preferences from Green Party candidates who recognised Labor had identical policies with them on nature conservation. In 1999 and 2003 my government was re-elected having delivered even more than we had promised on nature conservation. It made us damn near irresistible when it came to second preferences.
On Thursday last week I hit Keira, a Wollongong electorate, to stand next to Labor candidate Ryan Park and make a bid for Green Party preferences. The Green Party was not directing preferences on its ballot paper. I said:
If you think the environment is important, your ‘number two’ vote ought to at the very least come back to the Labor Party.
Ryan Park was elected with Green Party preferences breaking five to one his way.
There’s a lesson in this for my Labor Party colleagues. From the time of Bill McKell (who declared the Kosciusko National Park in the middle of the Second World War) and Neville Wran (who saved the rain forests of northern NSW) to my years, we have performed best electorally by taking an active, intelligent pro-environment direction.